Thursday, March 16, 2006
LOOSE FUR | Born Again in the USA | Drag City
Loose Fur’s Born Again in the USA seems custom made for the iTunes online music store, where customers can opt for a single 99-cent song download over purchasing a whole album. It’s not to say the second release by Loose Fur—Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Glen Kotche (Wilco) and Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth)—is a bad record, but a good deal of the release is angular guitar rock that, though impressive with its frequent shifts, leaves the listener jolted and emotionally unaffected.
There are a few moments where the band breaks from the clinical math rock. “Answers to Your Questions” is downbeat folk, while “Wreckroom” sounds almost good enough to make it on a Wilco album. What truly towers over the rest of Born Again in the USA is a superb number titled “The Ruling Class.” More straightforward musically than the other songs, “The Ruling Class” includes lots of whistling as it imagines Christ returning to Earth, smoking crack and claiming tax deductions on all of mankind. (ST)
PUBLIC ENEMY | Rebirth of a Nation | Guerilla Funk Recordings
Rebirth of a Nation matches Bay area rapper Paris and Public Enemy in a full-fledged collaboration, though it might be more accurate to give Paris the top billing. Most of Rebirth’s responsibility fell on Paris (in Chuck D’s words, “I told Paris that he would have to come more than halfway to make this happen.”), and clearly the Bay area rapper came through. Released on Paris’ own Guerilla Funk label, he created not only the music for the entire production, he also penned the majority of the album’s lyrics—including most of Chuck D’s.
And while Chuck D is clear he considers Rebirth a special project separate from the PE cannon (this would be PE’s 11th studio album), there’s no denying the gravity PE’s legacy lends to the release. Tackling the same revolutionary messages, Paris’ production is appropriately inspired, with menacing, low-toned power anthems easily matching Chuck D’s commanding delivery. Equally effective are the collaborations with similarly activist artists—Dead Prez appear on back to back tracks, including the rousing “Can’t Hold Us Back.” Sister Souljah’s rally against police racism kicks off “Hard Rhyming.” And of course, for a touch of authenticity, Flava Flav shows up to hype a few tracks, while Professor Griff appears on the title track. Rebirth isn’t technically PE, but it’s pretty damn close. (BS)
MATISYAHU | Youth | Epic/IDUB
Beware the novelty act that loudly and overtly announces itself. This is billed as “Hasidic reggae” and indeed it is, with flourishes including rap and dub. The idea that these New Yorkers are smoking from the same spiritual chalice as their Rasta forebears is intriguing, but is it good music?
Not only is it good, it aces its most obvious parallels. Unlike the content-free and lazily derivative Caucasian big sellers of the genre, Sublime, this is far more in the vein of rock-based/hip-hop based groovery than the beach-bum party boys that have latched onto the music like slightly hipper Parrotheads.
Sailing in on a message with “Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth” which is not unlike the timeless Culture disc Two Sevens Clash and hitting what could actually be a radio-hit stride on “Unique is My Dove,” this is religious music that pulls no punches or waters down its message for the masses, which is the difference between Judaism and Christianity in a nutshell anyway. Who’d ever believe that something that appears so marginal is so magnificent? Disc of the year so far! (JA)